Vocabulary Lessons by T.L. Sherwood

Vocabulary Lessons by T.L. Sherwood

“Scripture tells us, that with God, all things are possible.” Father Danzian looks out at his flock of teachers, slackers, brains, and jocks. We don’t believe. Not him, not books, not that Emily is dead. Bowing his head, he looks down at the makeshift pulpit our principal has provided. I glance over at Greta. She is the only one who has real tears. She was tight with Emily until last spring. I’m sure Greta told me what the fight was about, but I didn’t care then. I was too busy trying to get laid.

“Your counselors may have mentioned that there are studies showing a spike in suicides after the first one, but mark my words, this state, this community, this school­­ no matter the ups and downs­­ has a solid, caring foundation. From the fertile soil beneath our feet to the steely depths of our souls, I know we’ll find the strength to carry on, to heal after this tragedy. Emily will not be the first; she will be the only.”

Danzian raises his hands like he’s in a movie, summoning a devil. I shift in my seat. He stands like that for a long time, staring up, beseeching a spirit. Beseeching is ­­a word I just reviewed. I was encouraged to take the SATs again and the test is coming up soon. I’m forever beseeching Greta to come with me into the park, the garage, her own bedroom after we’ve been making out in the living room and her drunken parents have already passed out. I’m beseeching this lame-ass assembly to be done with. It won’t bring Emily back.


While I’m looking inside the fridge, my mother, the comedienne, asks about school.

“It was fine.”

“Anything happen?”




“What was the assembly for?”



I knew she didn’t have a joke for that. “I’m going over to Greta’s to study.”

“Biology again?”

Lame jokes get lame laughs. “Always.”


Greta’s mother in a mourning dress is enough to make any dick go flaccid­­, another word I recently learned.

“Josh,” she says, “Greta isn’t feeling well. I think you should go home.”

“Is she sick?”

She reaches out, imploring me for a hug. I don’t know what to do. I try to hug her like it isn’t all messed up, but we’re both stiff muscled toy soldier graspers. I smell pit stains. I know she does, too.

“Have your mother give me a call.”

"Adult Words" image by Flickr user Dave Crosby

“Adult Words” image by Flickr user Dave Crosby


Fucking Danzian is a scabby pox upon our school. That talk he gave in the auditorium squelched the mental airwaves for three more girls. You know what I fucking don’t want to do as a senior on the basketball team? Go to fucking funerals.

After Emily, I didn’t want to go to the rest of them, but my mother made me. She claimed it was important to have closure. Greta’s mom didn’t make her go, but she went with me anyway.


“You know why she died, right?” Greta asks. The radio station is blaring a song that played perpetually all last summer. Her back is against my headboard, the calculus book across her knees. I’ve got my head on a pillow by her thigh, holding a paperback up in the air to read.

“Who?” I’m not being crass; there are too many girls to choose from.



“‘Cuz of me.”

I drop the book and sit up to face her. She has tears on her cheeks. “What?”

“It’s true. We had that fight.” She covers her face and sobs. I push the textbook away and draw her close. I hug her body as it spasms through regret, ire, and despair.

I say stupid things like “shh,” and “it’s okay.” I want to say it isn’t her fault, but I don’t know. Nobody knows. My dad died after my parents divorced. Maybe their fights caused his cancer. Maybe that’s how this shit works. I just want to be a good boyfriend so if there’s a chance to screw around later, Greta will be amiable.


“No, I don’t know why I’m here.”

The moron in a sports jacket is blond personified: fair­haired, light skinned, bleached teeth. The guy is dressed in shades of butterscotch, yellow, and camel. I stare up at the pale blue ceiling tiles surrounded by black grids. It resembles a skylight and I hate to admit it, but I like it.

“Josh, may I call you Josh?”

“No, I want to be called the Lone Fucking Ranger.”

“All right, Lone.” The guy stops when I smirk and then gasps. Maybe he remembers my mom has a standup routine. “Josh, your behavior is causing some concern.”

“I don’t see how.”

“You punched Leo Collins in the nose and threw your elbow into Brian Demison’s throat at the game last week.”

“I did not.”

The vapid idiot has the façade of a typical television psychiatrist­­, fingers fashioned into a tepee, held in front of his chest, watching me. “I could play the video,” he says.


“Honey, I just want you to be okay.” The sheets and blankets I have pulled over my head muffle my mom’s voice. It’s Saturday. I don’t have school. Why is she harassing me?

Mom gets up, and I hear her shut the door. I’ve seen the clergy, the shrink, the doctor, the counselor. What’s left? Military school recruiter? God, why can’t she leave me alone? Why can’t they all just leave me alone? I’m fine. No, not fine. I’m… I don’t think there’s a word for what I am.


For my college essay, I write about the suicides. Emily’s, Mary’s, Laney’s, Anna’s and Greta’s. At the end of the essay, I reveal Greta had been my girlfriend, the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. The early acceptances to colleges roll in. I don’t tell anyone I slept with Emily.

At the graduation ceremony, during the tribute to those girls, I don’t cry. I am stoic, unaffected, disbelieving. Emily didn’t die because of the fight with Greta. She was the Lone Ranger. Singular, apart, and alone. Scared and pregnant, Emily didn’t even kill herself. She tried to convince her parents and Danzian it was Immaculate. Maybe she fell, perhaps she was pushed from the precipice.

I was down in the gorge that day, looking for caves or corners that weren’t too craggy where Greta and I could do it. Some of the fight echoed down. Now it just echoes the way laughs do at comedy clubs. My mom told me about that­­ – the way it’s always there, even when she’s alone. It tells her she’s doing the right thing, pursuing her dreams.

I don’t know if that’s true. My dreams morph into nightmares where I wake up speechless, paralyzed, void of a vocabulary large enough to describe my senior year.

TLSherwoodT. L. Sherwood lives in western New York. She is the Fiction Editor at r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, a fiction reader at Literary Orphans, as well as being a library volunteer. Among other places, her work has appeared in Rosebud, Every Day Fiction, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Page and Spine. Her blog, Creekside Reflections, can be found at tlsherwood.wordpress.com. She’s on Twitter as @TLSherwood1 and hangs around Facebook far too often.